On Being a Woman
by Julia Serano

--this piece originally appeared in Draw Blood, a chapbook of julia's spoken word pieces--

a friend of mine
was asked to write about being a femme
for a queer women’s event
she wasn’t quite sure where to begin
“it’s hard to write about being a girl,” she said
and i knew exactly what she meant

for some time
i’ve been trying to write my own poem
about what it means to be a woman
but every time i pick up my pen
i’m afraid that i’ll paint myself into a corner
betrayed by words
forged from soft vowel sounds
and weak, diminutive connotations
words so delicate that they crumple
under any further introspection
i’m afraid that i may lose a part of myself
as i navigate my way
through the landmines
of other people’s definitions and dogma

pop-culture tells us that a real woman
knows how to use her body
to get what she wants
wielding the power of attraction
seducing with her animal magnetism
but i ask how much power is there
in being a carrot on a stick
that is dangled in front of someone?

and i can’t help but notice
that when men try to flatter us
they often use words
like "enchanting" and "mysterious"
but to me, those words seem like
a subconscious attempt by them
to place some distance between us

so it bothers me when i hear women
buy into a similar mysticism
as they try to empower us
by proclaiming that we are magical
that we are mother earth
with the ability to give birth
bearing life cycles
that follow the moon
like the tides of the ocean
but don’t they see the danger
in buying into the idea
that we are supernatural beings
for if we call ourselves goddesses
then there is no need for anyone
to treat us like human beings

i believe
that this is where second wave feminism
came to a grinding halt
when we got caught up in the myth
that women are special because of our biology
because when we take pride
in how fundamentally different we are from men
we unknowingly engage
in a dangerous game of opposites
for if men are big
then women must be small
if men are strong
then women must be soft
and it becomes impossible
to write a loud and proud poem
about what it means to be a woman
without either ridiculing men
or else pulling the rug out
from under ourselves

and being a woman is contradiction enough
without being both a transsexual
and a dyke like myself
i often feel like the monkey in the middle
on one side of me
are lesbian separatists
who insist that i am still a man
as if being born male
was some awful disease
that has infected my blood
and my bones
on the other side of me
are younger dykes
who are infatuated with trans men and trannybois
yet secretly confess to friends
that they are disturbed by trans women
because we act so “effeminate”
i wonder how they can be
so oblivious to their own arrogance
for anyone who admires trans-men
but dismisses trans-women
is simply practicing
another form of sexism
i used to think it was a contradiction
that some dykes abhorred me for my masculinity
while others hated me for my femininity
until i realized that being a woman
means that everyone has a stake
in seeing what they want to see in me

my friend said
“it’s hard to write about being a girl”
i believe that’s because the word “girl”
doesn’t really have a meaning of it’s own
it is always defined in opposition to boy
so when being butch
is to make yourself rock solid
then being femme becomes
allowing yourself to be malleable
and if being a man means
taking control of your own situation
then being a woman becomes
living up to other people’s expectations

well i refuse to believe in this myth
of opposites
if we want to shatter the glass ceiling
we must first learn to move beyond biology
and give ourselves permission
to become anything we want to be
i say to set any standard
that all women must meet
is to commit an act of misogyny

i refuse to believe in the myth
that all women share a common bond
the truth is
we are all very different from one another
we each live with a different set
of privileges and life experiences
and once we acknowledge this fact
it will become obvious
that when we try to place all women
into the same box
we unintentionally suffocate ourselves

instead of pretending
that all women share the same experience
that we are one in the same
let’s make the word “woman”
a perpetual agent of change
instead of repeating history
by chaining ourselves
to one specific definition or concept
let’s make the word “woman”
a celebration of each of our uniqueness.

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